On the January 23 edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal, Mike Allen, chief political writer for The Politico, claimed that presumptive 2008 presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "is like the president" in that "the one thing he has going for him is authenticity, steadfastness, sticking to what he says." In the very next breath, however, Allen noted that McCain has been "going and courting the sort of super right-wing that he once condemned." Allen then said that McCain "will get credit for sticking with the president" on Iraq, but also noted that McCain has "left himself a trapdoor" because he has said "that he thinks there should be more troops."
Similarly, in a January 22 column for The Politico, chief political columnist Roger Simon wrote that "[w]hen it comes to Iraq, you cannot accuse John McCain of political opportunism." He characterized McCain as a "straight-shoot[er]" and wrote that the McCain campaign's "ace in the hole" is that "McCain is honest enough and authentic enough to tell you what you don't want to hear." But, as Media Matters for America has noted, in contrast with Allen's and Simon's characterization of McCain as a straight shooter on Iraq, McCain has made several varying statements about the number of additional troops he thinks is necessary to send to Iraq and appears to have backpedaled on his support for President Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops. On the January 21 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, he said that he "would have liked to have seen more" than the 21,500 Bush plans to send -- after saying on January 12 during an Armed Services Committee hearing that Bush's "moves will give the Iraqis -- and America -- the best chance of success." As Media Matters has noted, McCain's Iraq position has been questioned as politically convenient for the exact reason Allen explained on Washington Journal -- if the troop escalation succeeds, McCain could claim credit for supporting it; if it fails, he could claim that the administration did not send enough troops.
Allen has previously praised McCain as "authentic." On the January 3 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, Allen said: "I think that people want someone who's honest, candid. They're tired of the pablum. ... It's why people in the past have liked Senator John McCain. Authenticity." As Media Matters has noted, McCain has equivocated on several issues in addition to the Iraq war and Christian conservatives, such as ethanol, tax cuts for the wealthy, abortion, the Confederate flag, detainee abuse, and abortion rights (see here, here, and here).
The Politico launched on January 23 "with the mission of covering the politics of Capitol Hill and of the presidential campaign, and the business of Washington lobbying and advocacy with enterprise, style, and impact."
From the January 23 edition of C-SPAN's Washington Journal:
PETER SLEN (executive producer and host): Another story that you do have in The Politico is about John McCain, and it says "Troop 'Surge' May Not Succeed." What does this do to him politically? He's been a supporter of the war. You have him here criticizing Vice President [Dick] Cheney.
ALLEN: Yes. Roger Simon, chief political correspondent, had a fascinating -- chief political columnist -- had a fascinating interview with Senator McCain in which he said, "Secretary Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history," and he said that the president listened too much to the vice president. That was the sentence that leaped out at me, and this is a very -- supposedly an interesting political -- this is a defining, at the moment, political issue for Senator McCain, and I'm not sure that I agree with the conventional wisdom that says that this is harmful to Senator McCain.
Senator McCain is like the president, and the one thing he has going for him is authenticity, steadfastness, sticking to what he says. And it's where Senator McCain has changed who he is, such as going and courting the sort of super right-wing that he once condemned, that he sort of became more vulnerable.
So, I think Senator McCain and President Bush are sort of in the same position here -- that is, in for a dime, in for a dollar. I think Senator McCain will get credit for sticking with the president, and he's left himself a trapdoor, because, Peter, as you know, he said on your air and elsewhere that he thinks there should be more troops. So, if the surge doesn't work, he'll always be able to say: "Well, you could have predicted that. I said that we'd need even more troops."
From Simon's column for The Politico:
When it comes to Iraq, you cannot accuse John McCain of political opportunism.
In fact, his support for George Bush's downward spiral of a war seems more like political suicide.
And McCain's chief political adviser, John Weaver, once described it to me in just those terms. "Stay the course, no matter what," he said. "And if it dooms McCain, so be it. The American people would expect no less than that from somebody running for president."
One suspects, however, that "dooming" John McCain in the name of sincerity is not what Weaver and the rest of McCain's political team have in mind.
Straight-shooting is a useful political tool, and it has gotten McCain a long way. He is one of the few people in modern political history to have his reputation enhanced by a losing presidential campaign.
And the McCain campaign ace in the hole -- McCain is honest enough and authentic enough to tell you what you don't want to hear -- may work fine with Republicans when it comes to campaign finance reform and the environment, but may not work as well when it comes to a meat grinder of a war that has no end in sight.